Death of Dermod MacMurrough

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVI

In 1171 Dermod MacMurrough, the author of so many miseries, and the object of so much just reprobation, died at Ferns, on the 4th of May. His miserable end was naturally considered a judgment for his evil life. His obituary is thus recorded: "Diarmaid Mac Murchadha, King of Leinster, by whom a trembling soil was made of all Ireland, after having brought over the Saxons, after having done extensive injuries to the Irish, after plundering and burning many churches, as Ceanannus, Cluain-Iraired, &c, died before the end of a year [after this plundering], of an insufferable and unknown disease; for he became putrid while living, through the miracle of God, Colum-cille, and Finnen, and the other saints of Ireland, whose churches he had profaned and burned some time before; and he died at Fearnamor, without [making] a will, without penance, without the body of Christ, without unction, as his evil deeds deserved."[3]

But the death of the traitor could not undo the traitor's work. Men's evil deeds live after them, however they may repent them on their deathbeds. Strongbow had himself at once proclaimed King of Leinster—his marriage with Eva was the ground of his claim; but though such a mode of succession might hold good in Normandy, it was perfectly illegal in Ireland. The question, however, was not one of right but of might, and it was settled as all such questions invariably are. But Strongbow had a master at the other side of the Channel, who had his own views of these complications. His tenure, however, was somewhat precarious. His barons, always turbulent, had now a new ground for aggression, in the weakness to which he had exposed himself by his virtual sanction of the murder of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and he was fain to content himself with a strong injunction commanding all his English subjects then in Ireland to return immediately, and forbidding any further reinforcements to be sent to that country. Strongbow was alarmed, and at once despatched Raymond le Gros with apologies and explanations, offering the King all the lands he had acquired in Ireland. Henry does not appear to have taken the slightest notice of these communications, and the Earl determined to risk his displeasure and remain in Ireland.

His prospects, however, were by no means promising. His Irish adherents forsook him on the death of Dermod; Dublin was besieged by a Scandinavian force, which Hosculf had collected in the Orkneys, and which was conveyed in sixty vessels, under the command of Johan le Déve (the Furious). Miles de Cogan repulsed this formidable attack successfully, and captured the leaders. Hosculf was put to death; but he appears to have brought his fate on himself by a proud and incautious boast.


[3] Deserved.—The Annals of Clonmacnois give a similar account; but in a paper MS. in Trinity College, Dublin, it is said that he died "after the victory of penance and unction." The old account is probably the more reliable, as it is the more consonant with his previous career.